Ch 47: Shirley
I first met Shirley as I was preparing to come to St. Luke's as locum. I was meeting up with the church wardens and some others and she had asked to see me. My first impression was that she had obviously dressed to impress, which gave me a twinge of sorrow on her behalf that she felt it necessary. She was early fifties (about 10 years older than me) of slight build, immaculately groomed – which she always was – and wearing a fashionable woollen cardigan, tight designer jeans and high heels. She told me that she had organised a variety of things under the previous minister, but that she did this “only as a matter of service”. She said: “I will gladly hand them over if you wish.”
As an incoming “caretaker” minister I did not want to go changing things so I asked her to continue as she had been.
Over the following months I came to the conclusion that Shirley had a finger in every pie! I also saw that she was, for better or worse, making the decisions which aught to have been made by other people who were the elected or appointed office holders, (See the previous chapter for why this was not a good thing) when she was not and had no intention of holding an official capacity such as Church Warden or on the Church Council.
My first confirmation of these misgivings was almost funny. It was October – I had been there about six months and the annual election of office bearers was approaching. I had to appoint one of the three Church Wardens, and in keeping with my aim of not changing much, I invited the Warden appointed by my predecessor to dinner with his wife with the aim of asking him to continue. Roger had been one of the selection committee which had recommended me as the new minister, so we were already well acquainted.
Roger and His wife Helen joined Sue and me for dinner. We talked about many things but he always seemed to come back to probing my relationship with and opinion of … Shirley. Eventually he came clean: “I guessed you were going to ask me to continue as a Warden” he admitted, “But I had decided to refuse unless I was sure you had seen that Shirley's pervasive control was a problem! Now that I see you have, I am prepared to continue.” So it was not just me!
It certainly was not just me! I want to jump forward five or six years to when some legal sworn depositions were being made and quote from one made by a lady who had been in the music group even before I came.
“I have been a member of St. Luke's for ten years.
When I first came to the church Shirley xxxx had a very high profile role in the services. She did intercessions, Bible readings, music. At times we saw more of Shirley than the vicar or other people. My husband and I did not know her name for some time and we would ask each other; “who is that woman who seems to run the show?”
I joined the music ministry team about 8 years ago. Music practice for those rostered took place each Saturday preceded by a short bible study.
Although Shirley xxxx was not the director of music, she often criticised me and others as if she was in charge.
When she ran the bible study before music practice Shirley was very dogmatic about her views on the meaning of the bible passage and she criticised people who did not agree with her or simply had another way of looking at it.
During the Rev'd Jack xxxx's time Shirley was regarded as Jack's right hand woman. She appeared to have more to say about what happened than the vicar.”
What roles did Shirley play? She planned and made up the running sheet for the main service. Among a large number of others others she was on a roster to lead the pre-Communion part of the service, read the scripture readings, lead intercessions and administer the Chalice at Communion. She sang in the music group and although not the music director seemed the de-facto leader. She was one of a number who led the informal Charismatic style evening service. She led one of the many home groups, though hers contained many of the most wealthy people. She led the parish prayer chain and a women's bible study using the popular “KYB” syllabus.
I decided, at about the same time that I wanted Shirley to do a couple less things, and separately that we should reinstate one of the organisational “safety switches” as I mentioned last time, by having service leaders and Chalice assistants duly licensed by the Archbishop.
I put the licensing question to the Church Council and they agreed. I spoke to Shirley and told her that I wanted to take over the role of service planning myself and that she would no longer be service leading or administering the Chalice. But I reminded her of the many other roles she would still be playing in the church.
Her reply was interesting in the light of all that followed.
She replied: “Your actions come as no surprise to me, God has told me that I would not be leading services.”
So I took over service planning. I also quietly omitted her name from the list I send to the Archbishop for licences as service leaders and/or Chalice assistants.
Can you guess what happened next?